The Palatino (“Palatine Hill”) is one of the famous seven hills of Rome. It was the first one that was inhabited. According to legend Romulus founded Rome on its slopes, in the year 753 BC. In 2007, the Lupercale, the cave where Remus and Romulus are thought to have been fed by the she-wolf, was discovered.
Palatine Hill Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
It is very likely that there were already people living on the Palatine Hill before the year 753 BC. It was a good spot for a settlement. The hill looked out over the Tiber Island, which was the easiest place to cross the river.
In the heyday of the Roman Empire, Emperors chose their dwellings on the hill. It was also here that the earliest temples were built. When other rich Romans started building here, commerce and bureaucracy moved to the Roman Forum.
It was the Emperor Augustus who had upped the prestige of the Palatine Hill, by settling there and by building a.o. the Temple of Apollo. His successors Tiberius and Caligula constructed ever bigger dwellings. It is likely that he had chosen the spot, because it was supposed to be near the Lupercal.
The biggest palace of all was built by Domitianus, however. The ruins of this building still dominate the skyline of the hill.
Subsequent emperors continued the building spree. Trajan had spectator seats constructed in order to better be able to follow the games in the adjacent Circus Maximus, while Septimius Severus commissioned the construction of a huge bathhouse.
After the 9th century AD the Palatine Hill lost its importance and gradually became more and more dilapidated. Its palaces and other buildings were dismantled and plundered and the stone and marble were used for new constructions. Several Roman churches and convents have been built using material taken from the Palatine Hill.
The Palatino comprises around 2 square km and takes up the area between the Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum. In the old days it was reached via the Clivus Palatinus, a steep road that started at the Forum Romanum.
Of the time of the kings and of the Roman Republic, when the Palatine Hill was populated by the wealthier citizens of Rome, there are but few traces left.
Palatine Hill Highlights
House of Romulus
The House of Romulus (Casa Romuli) is located on the western slope of the Palatine Hill. It is one of a number of huts that were discovered here in 1946. Holes along its circumference indicate where the walls and the doors used to be.
Casa di Livia
The frescoes in the House of Livia are excellently preserved, but otherwise even less of the structure of the original buildings remains than in the Roman Forum itself.
The Arcate Severiane (“Arches of Severius”) are part of the Domus Severiana and are located on the edge of archaeological site. They tower over the Circus Maximus and served in part as the substructure for a new wing of the imperial palace of Severius.
The Cryptoporticus was a 130-meter-long, semi-underground hall north of the House of Livia. The hall connected the imperial palaces of Tiberius, Livia and the members of the Flavius family, among others. In the year 41, Caligula is said to have been assassinated in this hall.
The Domus Flavia was the most central complex on the Palatine. For its construction, previous constructions had to be demolished. The first occupant of this palace was Emperor Nero. In the center of the building was a peristilium with a huge octagonal central fountain.
The House of Augustus began as the residence of a few emperors, but later became both the residence and the office of the high-ranking officials of the empire. It has three floors and was built during the time of Emperor Domitian. Although the excavations are far from complete, many floor mosaics and frescoes have already come to light.
Stadium of Domitian
The Stadium of Domitian was built between 81 and 96 and has a racetrack of 160 by 47 meters. It is not known if the stadium was ever used and if it was for the emperor and his entourage or for the people. It could even have been a garden in the form of a stadium. Saint Sebastian died here as a martyr.
There is also a museum (the Museo Palatino) attached to the Palatine. Here objects and works of art found during excavations on the hill are displayed. There is even an anti-Christian graffitto, depicting the crucifix with a donkey’s head.
In 2007 archaeologists thought to have found the cave where, according to tradition, Romulus and Remus were suckled by the famous she-wolf. This Lupercale is located 16 meters underground, near the walls of the House of Augustus, under the slopes of the Palatine.
It is now believed that the Lupercale was probably a nymphaeum, formed partly by nature and partly by human hands. It is 9 meters high and has a diameter of 7.50 meters. Its ceiling is covered with abstract mosaics and rows of white shells. A white eagle, symbolizing Augustus, is depicted in the central part.
The cult of the Lupercale was alive until the 5th century when Pope Gelasio I forbade Roman men to whip their wives. This was done while they were running inside the holy Palatine and was supposed to make the women fertile.